He is a 59-year-old ex-catcher with a shambling limp, but Bruce Bochy often clears his head by taking long walks. He does it near his home in San Diego, he does it on the trails in Oregon, and he does it in his adopted city of San Francisco, starting from the apartment he owns near AT&T Park and scrabbling over the hills and up toward Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, where he can overlook the city that has turned him into a legendary public figure.
This is the way the most successful manager in the recent history of baseball clears his head. He does it enough that he’ll soon publish a book detailing some of his favorite walks. Yet sometimes, especially in San Francisco, it’s not easy, when people stop him and ask for photos and autographs and especially when passing cars blow their horns at him, startling him out of his state of quiet contemplation.
“I’m not a headphone guy,” he says, and this makes sense when you try to imagine the folksy Bochy strutting around The City with a pair of Beats cupped over his ears.
In Bochy’s mind, baseball is never far away during these walks, even in, say, the middle of December, when one season begins to fade into another. (“I remember before the World Series parade last year,” assistant general manager Bobby Evans says, “Boch and I were joking that as soon as we did this, we were back to Square 1. We’re back at the bottom of the mountain.”) Bochy is constantly thinking about what might happen next, about how to maintain the momentum, about personnel and free agents and ways to improve upon what has become the exemplary franchise in the sport, a team that’s won three World Series in five years while somehow managing to remain eminently likeable.
The key to that likability — the public face of the Giants’ dynasty — is Bochy, but there is a network here that Bochy is constantly leaning upon, and it begins with the general manager, Brian Sabean. Bochy and Sabean live in the same building in San Francisco. In the offseason, they are constantly texting each other, calling each other, bouncing ideas off each other about potential signings and potential trades and ways to continually re-engineer a roster that handles turnover and transition with an almost seamless sense of dignity.
“Like any successful business, it’s all about collaboration,” Bochy says. “I don’t think [Brian and I] always agree on certain things, but he lets us do our thing and trusts us. He’s not only my boss, but my good friend.”
And this is a large part of what has made the Giants baseball’s model franchise: They are, for the most part, a seamless organization, from top to bottom. They make choices with care and caution, they meticulously evaluate the character of their roster, they utilize modern metrics without publicly flaunting their formulas. People come here and tend to stay for a while, as a considerable percentage of the front office has been around for at least 10 years. Players want to stay, too, in large part because of Bochy’s status as a player’s manager, his preternatural ability to soothe their psyches (there were nine carryovers who played on all three World Series championship teams, and eight — minus third baseman Pablo Sandoval — still remain on the roster). But they also stay because they get to play in a stadium that is nearly always full, a stadium that somehow manages to capture the feel of a city imbued, these days, with both untold beauty and untold wealth.
It is hard not to begin with that stadium, AT&T Park, which has become one of the jewels of The City, and to an ownership group, led by CEO Larry Baer, that’s found a way to connect with all the varied elements of a city undergoing a startling transformation. The Giants are one of the few things in modern San Francisco that seem to resonate with rich and poor, with immigrants and natives, with the gentrified and the gentrifiers. There is something to seeing that cohesion in a city so rife with change, a comfort in the notion that pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo keep showing up on the roster year after year, even as The City evolves around them.
And there is something to the notion that the Giants aren’t just buying their way to championships, that they refuse to overpay to top free agents just because they can, that much of their talent — including their best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, and their best position player, Buster Posey — is homegrown. There is something to the notion that the front office and the manager and his coaching staff are well-enough acquainted to respect each other’s space.
“You have to start out with the fact that there’s a lot of stability here,” Baer says. “There’s a lot of temptation to overreact and to make changes, but if you believe in the people you have and in the culture of working together, it’s not surprising that the baseball side and the business side would come together the way they have.”
Let us return, then, to last year’s World Series, to one of those watershed moments that will define Bochy’s legacy as a manager, to one of those times when he managed to ignore the outside noise, the bleating horns of the media and the public, and to do things the Giants way. Heading into Game 4, Giants down two games to one, the entire city and a large swath of the media clamoring for Bochy to start his ace pitcher, Bumgarner. But Bochy is thinking ahead. Bochy is thinking of Game 5, and the notion that the Giants need to win each of the next two games at home before heading to Kansas City for Games 6 and 7, so why burn your best pitcher in the first of those games?
“You do this long enough,” Bochy says, “you don’t let certain things persuade or distract you.”
And so the Giants won Game 4 by utilizing six pitchers, and then they rode Bumgarner in Game 5, and famously did it again in the late innings of Game 7, another decision that Bochy made entirely by the instinct he’s cultivated over three decades as a manager.
“This is a big strong man,” he says of Bumgarner. “We don’t baby our pitchers. I didn’t have any concerns about him, and I don’t have any concerns about him long-term.”
Instead, Bochy’s long-term concerns are about the bigger picture. Even though he and Sabean never talk about it, he gets asked all the time about this odd-numbered-year thing, the strange confluence of events that have led the Giants to be so good in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and nowhere near as good in 2011 and 2013 (a level of angst that ratcheted up when the Giants remained relatively quiet in the free-agent market after letting Sandoval go to Boston this offseason). It’s all kind of amusing to Bochy, one of those strange coincidences that reminds him and everyone else in the organization how much luck can play in to these things, but also how there’s always something else to strive for.
“You never arrive in this game,” Bochy says at one point, and when I ask him if he still feels like he hasn’t arrived, even after a managerial run that may land him in the Hall of Fame, he admits that he doesn’t, that even at a time when he and the franchise that employs him are essentially atop The City, there is always one more steep grade to climb.